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Interview with Ryan Jensen of T-Mobile & Steve Statler, Bluetooth Ecosystem Adoption, National Emergency Address Database (NEAD)

Ryan Jensen

As Director of Technology and Compliance and a Senior Member of the Technical Staff for T-Mobile, Ryan oversees location technology development, performance evaluation, and related improvements for the wireless network and mobile devices.  He also provides technical and strategic regulatory support, and serves as an industry liaison to help develop and facilitate the adoption of appropriate best practices and rules for emergency services, including E9-1-1. 

Steve Statler

Steve Statler is the author of Beacon Technologies, the presenter of the Mister Beacon podcast and a Senior VP at Wiliot where he is responsible for consulting, marketing and business development.

Wiliot is a fabless semiconductor company connecting people and products with battery-free Bluetooth tags powered by harvesting energy from radio waves. Prior to Wiliot his consulting company specialized in Bluetooth beacon technology, training and advising manufacturers, venue owners, VCs, as well as makers of beacon software and hardware.

Previously he was the Senior Director for Strategy and Solutions Management at Qualcomm's Retail Solutions Division, helping to incubate Gimbal, one of the leading Bluetooth beacons in the market.

Tell me a bit about the ELOC / 911 National Emergency Address Database project
An average of 465,000 9-1-1 calls are made in the USA each day, and this number is increasing over time as more and more people depend solely on mobile phones. A significant percentage of these calls are made from indoors, and the responders to these calls rely on accurate location information to get to the victims quickly. Historically, this has been a great challenge, and wireless carriers are working closely with public safety officials to improve automatic location information for these callers.

In 2015, the FCC released their Fourth Report & Order on Wireless 911 Location Accuracy Requirements that mandated specific performance benchmarks which increase over time. One of the fundamental tools identified to address these requirements is the National Emergency Address Database (NEAD), created to help improve indoor location information. Currently, location estimates are provided in the form of latitude and longitude coordinates, which can sometimes be inaccurate, and must be translated into a civic address before they can be used to dispatch emergency help. The NEAD is allowing us to move toward the direct provision of a civic address for indoor emergency calls, which would accurately guide the dispatch of emergency crews to the right address. The NEAD can also provide important information about the location of the person in distress within a large building, which can be very significant in a large multi-story building. “Time is brain” as a doctor said to a friend of mine who recovered from a stroke recently. Note that the NEAD will be used exclusively for locating 911 callers and not for any commercial purpose.


What is the role of Bluetooth in the development of the NEAD?
All of the national wireless carriers in the U.S. are committed to helping develop the NEAD. The initial emphasis was on Wi-Fi access points, which are now fairly ubiquitous and standardized, but we realized we could also leverage Bluetooth beacons to acquire civic addresses for first responders. 

Wi-Fi access points were primarily deployed to enable connectivity, whereas Bluetooth beacons were specifically designed to be a simple, low cost way of providing information on presence and location. Additionally, Bluetooth beacons are much smaller than Wi-Fi access points with a more accurate RF footprint and explosive growth projections. 

Bluetooth has come a long way, and now many of the new generations of LED lighting fixtures are starting to come with Bluetooth radios, so we are getting a blanket of location cues that are available to us. The cost of Bluetooth is so low that adding these radios to things like smoke detectors and exit signs is becoming much more feasible. Anywhere there is a Bluetooth radio, there is the potential to provide location information which can contribute to the NEAD and improve public safety. The overall goal is to leverage all available positioning methods to produce the most useful and accurate location estimate for all 911 calls – regardless of whether they are placed indoors or outdoors, in a single-story or a high-rise building, in dense urban or rural areas, on the latest smartphone or a low-end feature phone. 


How successful has the project been so far and what are your plans for the future?
The project has been a big undertaking. The first step was to form the ELOC task force (emergency location) under the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) to develop the NEAD specifications. These were released in September 2016, and the plan is to evaluate the performance of the NEAD in the industry Test Bed this year, and begin providing service for 911 calls next year. We hope to be able to provide actionable ‘dispatchable locations’ for a significant proportion of indoor wireless 911 calls, that will send first responders to the correct civic address – including building floor or apartment or suite, where applicable in multi-story buildings. 

Looking forward, we would like to see the Bluetooth community become a part of enhancing the 911 system. This is an extremely important use case with the potential to save lives. Policy makers and public officials will come to expect Bluetooth providers to contribute data to the NEAD in support of 911. I envision leveraging Bluetooth beacons that are deployed for various unrelated commercial purposes, as well as perhaps dedicated emergency service deployments: Emergency signs and smoke detectors and so on, for the overall benefit of 911 callers across the country.


What would you say to others who would like to help or participate?
Firstly, we all need to build momentum and raise awareness for companies that have Bluetooth radios in their products. We are interested in speaking to any Bluetooth beacon provider, or indeed any company that might find they have beacon functionality in a Bluetooth-enabled product. We can change these products from having a purely commercial benefit, to adding a public safety component (which has many commercial benefits in itself). 
Secondly, we want to work with the ecosystem on the technology itself; our standards team have implemented a really great baseline and made it easy for beacon vendors to integrate it, but we want the rest of the ecosystem to help us develop the technology and evolve it in new ways. No standard is ever complete.


What does this mean for Bluetooth in the development of a smart city?
Bluetooth beacons have so many potential applications in a smart city, and the great thing about the NEAD is that it is actually enabling these. Registering your beacons with NEAD doesn’t stop you from using them for something else, and so it can help to justify their cost when being used for other commercial applications, such as way finding or marketing. These applications may have once been on the edge when looking at their ROI, but the public safety element allows the beacons to be used in new and exciting ways.


What are you most looking forward to about Bluetooth World?
First and foremost, the event is an excellent opportunity for us to learn and grow; the who’s who of the Bluetooth IoT industry will be there and I’m looking forward to the unexpected as well as of course networking. With regard to our project, we are excited to get more Bluetooth stakeholders to become aware of the NEAD and also to share the vision of improving emergency call responses and saving lives, and would like to speak with anyone that is looking at deploying Bluetooth in an enterprise or domestic environment. We really want to spread the message of how easy it is to work with this program; the standard has been designed really well, it is non-disruptive and it is really a matter of simple coordination to enable existing products to work.

I am confident that given the opportunity, the Bluetooth community can identify additional innovative ways to leverage this fantastic technology, with the result being the mutual benefit of public safety and the Bluetooth ecosystem.

Ryan will be a keynote speaker at Bluetooth World on 19 September at 11:55. To hear his seminar and many more, you will need to purchase an 'access all areas' pass for just $99. Book today!

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